Summary Environmental concerns along with high energy demand in transportation are leading to major development in sustainable transportation technologies, not the least of which is the utilization of clean energy sources. Solar energy as an auxiliary power source of on-board fuel has not been extensively investigated. This study focuses on the energy and economic aspects of optimizing and hybridizing, the conventional energy path of plug-in electric vehicles (EVs) using solar energy by means of on-board photovoltaic (PV) system as an auxiliary fuel source. This study is novel in that the authors (i) modeled the comprehensive on-board PV system for plug-in EV; (ii) optimized various design parameters for optimum well-to-tank efficiency (solar energy to battery bank); (iii) estimated hybrid solar plug-in EVs energy generation and consumption, as well as pure solar PV daily range extender; and (iv) estimated the economic return of investment (ROI) value of adding on-board PVs for plug-in EVs under different cost scenarios, driving locations, and vehicle specifications. For this study, two months in two US cities were selected, which represent the extremities in terms of available solar energy; June in Phoenix, Arizona and December in Boston, Massachusetts to represent the driving conditions in all the US states at any time followed by assessment of the results worldwide. The results show that, by adding on-board PVs to cover less than 50% (around 3.2 m2) of the projected horizontal surface area of a typical passenger EV, the daily driving range could be extended from 3.0 miles to 62.5 miles by solar energy based on vehicle specifications, locations, season, and total time the EV remains at Sun. In addition, the ROI of adding PVs on-board with EV over its lifetime shows only small negative values (larger than −45%) when the price of electricity remains below $0.18/kWh and the vehicle is driven in low-solar energy area (e.g. Massachusetts in the US and majority of Europe countries). The ROI is more than 148% if the vehicle is driven in high-solar energy area (e.g. Arizona in the US, most Africa countries, Middle East, and Mumbai in India), even if the electricity price remains low. For high electricity price regions ($0.35/kWh), the ROI is positive and high under all driving scenarios (above 560%). Also, the reported system has the potential to reduce electricity consumption from grid by around 4.5 to 21.0 MWh per EV lifetime. A sensitivity analysis has been carried out, in order to study the impacts of the car parked in the shade on the results. Copyright © 2016 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

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